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Friday, December 22, 2006

Alliance of civilizations, not "clash of civilizations".

Here is an interesting article from IPS News, A Bridge Over Troubled Waters:
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 (IPS) - Key political figures from the West and the Muslim world, as well as the outgoing U.N. chief Kofi Annan, urged the international community Monday to seriously examine ways to promote greater dialogue among civilisations and cultures.

"It is not enough to publish an insightful report, and applaud great ideas, unless then we do something about them," Annan said at the General Assembly's informal discussion on a U.N.-sponsored report to advance an "Alliance of Civilisations".

Alliance of civilizations, not "clash of civilizations".
"In this period of rising tensions, none of us should simply call from the sidelines for peaceful coexistence, and then go on with our life as usual," Annan said. "We should make an active effort to learn from each other to understand the source of our differences."

This is not just about people like John Kerry and Chris Dodd getting opposing leaders in the Middle East to sit down and talk to each other. This means each one of us in our everyday lives, understanding the differences between us and others that might bring us into conflict, and working out ways to value others not only despite, but perhaps, because of those differences.
Rejecting the notion of a "clash of civilisations", Erdogan said that "increasing disparities and injustices, as well as exaggerated fears and suspicions, feed into mutual hatred, prejudice and intolerance prevailing all over the world."

Exactly. Too bad many people will automatically call this a "blame America first" attitude, stick their fingers in their ears and run away. The problem is, this is simply a truism, and refusing to acknowledge it does not make it any less true, just means one is less equipped to deal with it effectively.
The report puts forward a range of concrete proposals in the areas of education, media, youth and migration, including film and television programmes co-produced across religious and cultural boundaries and showing diversity as a normal feature of society.

Wait, is that the dreaded spectre of "multiculturalism"?
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Kristi Lintonen, the Finnish envoy, said the European nations welcomed the report as "an important contribution to the common platform of unity at national, regional and local levels."

Speaking on behalf of the United States...um, no. Nothing in the article about any involvement, support or response from the U.S. An omission in the article, or an omission in U.S. policy?
As part of the U.N. efforts to do more, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain said she intends convene an informal interactive debate of the General Assembly next summer.

I can't wait to see the extended coverage of that debate in the U.S. media.


UPDATE: website for the Alliance of Civilisations project. From "about":
The initiative responds to a broad consensus across nations, cultures and religions that all societies are interdependent, bound together in their development and security, and in their environmental, economic and financial well-being.

UPDATE 2: No, apparently the U.S. can't be bothered.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"On a swift boat to a warmer world" or, abusing the Word.

Daniel Schrag, a climate scientist from Harvard, gives some insight in today's Boston Globe into the cravenness of the ideologues running Washington the last two years:
Yet I am an optimist because I believe we can fix the climate change problem. We can deploy the technologies to meet our energy needs while slashing carbon emissions: plug-in hybrids, windmills, carbon sequestration for coal plants, and even nuclear power. We have responded to larger challenges in the past, such as when FDR appropriated most of the nation's industrial capacity to build ships, tanks, and airplanes for World War II.

Unfortunately, I am a little less optimistic today than I was a couple of weeks ago, before testifying at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It was Senator James Inhofe's last hearing as chair of the committee, and the focus was on media coverage of global warming. I was invited by the Democratic staff to counter arguments that global warming is a hoax perpetrated on the American people by scientists like me.

... I watched in horror as Inhofe's witnesses spouted outrageous claims intended to deceive and distort. Two were scientists associated with industry-funded think tanks. They described global warming as a "mass delusion" among the scientific community, sowing confusion by misrepresenting the ice core data that connects carbon dioxide and temperature over glacial cycles, and claiming that "global warming stopped in 1998" -- an anomalously warm year. They even recommended burning as much fossil fuel as possible to prevent another ice age.

Unfortunately, the format does not allow for direct debate. Some senators defended the integrity of the scientific community, including Barbara Boxer, who will become chair of the committee in January. But amid the collegiality and decorum that is the tradition in the Senate, no one stood up and called this hearing what it was: a gathering of liars and charlatans, sponsored by those industries who want to protect their profits.

Later that day, Inhofe issued a press release that specifically highlighted my testimony, claiming that I "agreed" with him that the Kyoto Protocol "would have almost no impact on the climate even if all the nations fully complied." In fact, I had interrupted him during the hearing to object to this claim, reminding him that Kyoto was only conceived as a first step, and never as a long-term solution.

Was Schrag surprised by this? You might hope that he would be, and perhaps he was at the time; but as he next describes, he won't be surprised by it anymore.

I later learned that Inhofe's communications director, Marc Morano, was a key figure in publicizing the swift boat veterans' attack on John Kerry in 2004. Morano, it seems, is still up to his old tricks, twisting the facts to support his boss's outrageous claims. This made my visit complete: a glimpse at our government that sees the world only through glasses tinted by special interests, which treats science as a political football, no matter what is at stake.

So...Inhofe, who seems to like to take the Bible seriously, appears to have forgotten that pesky little commandment about "bearing false witness." Or is it okay to employ and rely on someone like Marc Morano, whose reputation is built on flouting that commandment? As long as one isn't committing the sin oneself (as for whether Inhofe is or isn't, we can save that question for later), it's okay to benefit from someone who clearly is?

Or maybe not all commandments are created equally to these folks who claim to want this country run as a "Christian nation." Hmmm. (Something tells me my readers, all three of them, will be spitting "duh!" at their monitors when they read that. 's ok.)

This question of "bearing false witness", and why that commandment seems to mean so little to so many on the right who profess to be "God-fearing Christians" or even "born again", has been bugging me for some time now. In the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, "right speech" (which goes way beyond simply not lying), is the first of the behavioral prescriptions for ethical conduct. The concept of honoring the power of speech is also described first in the popular book of "Toltec wisdom", The Four Agreements: "Be Impeccable with your Word". It seems like a concept that cultures all over the world have come to recognize: words are so powerful that they must be considered sacred and to use them inappropriately is immoral. So why is it that the moralizing "right" in this country so blithely abuses the power of the word?

I wonder what the response might be from those I refer to above. My own feeling is that it is simply because they are neither "moral" nor "right", and they never intended any relationship between themselves and those concepts, except as sheep's clothing to gain the trust of those they would manipulate.

John Kerry to TIME: My Person of the Year


My Person of the Year

To help us make this year's selection, TIME asked people who have been featured in the magazine for their 2006 nominations. A sampling:

Posted Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006

John Kerry, presidential contender in 2004, is the junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts

I nominate the veterans who ran for Congress for their guts, grit, brains and heart. In Washington, veterans are too often seen as backdrops for speeches but seldom listened to about war and peace and body armor. Now the troops are speaking, and they will change the character of Congress.

Good pick, Senator!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A belated birthday blog.

I was there! Like last year. This year was every bit as cool, but I'll have to admit, there's just not as much I can write, because this year I knew how cool it would be. But, I couldn't move on to posting other stuff until I said something about the birthday party.

First off let me say that, Senator Kerry was just as great as ever, but Teresa stole my heart this year. Last year I'd been too shy to say much, and this year I guess I didn't say much more; but between a brief chat between us and the way she later talked about John and their forthcoming book, in this more intimate group of just over 40 folks, I got a very real sense of her warmth, humor, and compassion. From where I was standing across the room from John when Teresa spoke about their book, I really saw the play of affection between them in their faces. Now, I don't know if everyone gets this, or if I can put into words why it's so important to me that I would write about it. But I'll try.

Maybe it's that in 2004, when I first put up my "John Kerry for President" yard sign, the first neighborhood republican shill to say anything to me, chose to attack John by attacking Teresa, and making insinuations about the Kerrys' "relationship". Now I will confess I knew almost zero about Teresa at the time. It just seemed crazy to me that someone would try to influence my opinion of a person running for president, by attacking the person's spouse. What was up with that? Well I guess I was naive, because that was only a taste of what was to come, but the local republicans sure didn't win any respect from me by their tactics.

I really don't like having my intelligence insulted. Or my sense of myself as a moral person. Yet I feel that these right-wing shills accost me repeatedly as somehow morally less valid than they are. When they attack accomplished, decent, compassionate people like Teresa and John, for the baseless reasons that they do, and then they make insane personal attacks on them as a couple - these people think they are morally better than me? Sure. Got it. And to insult my intelligence by expecting me to fall for their lies? Sheesh.

Well to bring this back to Monday and the party. I guess like most people I like that feeling of vindication. And the more I see of John and Teresa, the more vindicated I feel in going with my gut and common sense in 2004. It's more than that though. I've seen a few things in my life, less than a lot of people, but still enough to make me well acquainted with cynicism. It's hard to believe in anything some days, and really hard to believe in heroes, ever. And I'm not quite there, even with John and Teresa Kerry. Except on days like Monday. And on those days, it feels really nice to believe in someone for a change.

Photo Credit: Island Blue of Democratic Underground. More photos here.

P.S. I am not in the above photo. That is Senator Kerry (obviously) and another blogger.

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The Bush Administration's
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